By Daniel Singleton

Living with chronic back pain is tough and it can really drain you physically, mentally and emotionally. So, if anyone needs a good holiday it’s us, right?

However, while thoughts of jetting off to a sandy beach paradise can get you through the darkest of pain days, when departure day finally arrives you are faced with a big problem: the long flight you need to take to get there.

Being cramped up in an uncomfortable seat and suffering the vibrations from the airplane for hours on end can be real torture for your back. And it can leave you feeling like rubbish for the first few days of your vacation—when you should be relaxing and enjoying yourself.

But flying doesn’t have to be such an ordeal. There are things you can do before, during, and after your flight that will help to keep your back feeling as well as possible on your journey instead.

Before your flight

If you already suffer from back pain, then your pre-flight preparations shouldn’t just include finding the best deal. You also need to prepare yourself for what’s to come to give yourself the best fighting chance. And you can do this by:

  • Booking the most direct route you can afford, as changing planes and waiting around airports for hours on end do your back no favours.
  • Calling the airline in advance to discuss any accommodations you may need, like a special seat request or a wheelchair in between gates.
  • Staying active and getting into the habit of stretching regularly in the weeks leading up to the flight. This will help improve your flexibility, keep your back supported, and give your body the best chance of withstanding the stresses and strains of air travel.
  • Not overloading your carry-on luggage, as dragging a heavy bag around the airport and straining your back muscles before the flight itself is a pretty bad idea! You might also consider purchasing lightweight luggage with wheels in advance.

During your flight

Once you’re on board, the battle against back pain truly begins as you are wedged into your seat. So, try to do the following to minimize any discomfort on your journey.

  • Sit with a good posture. This isn’t easy in an airplane seat but try to sit up straight keeping your neck and back in alignment and a slight ‘S’ shaped curve in your spine to relieve pressure. Also, keep both your feet flat on the floor to relieve some of the strain on your lower back.
  • Use travel pillows to help keep your body aligned. For instance, you can buy an inflatable lumbar support pillow to place between your lower back and seat to keep the healthy curve in your spine or you can use a wrap-around neck pillow to keep your head nicely balanced.
  • Recline your seat slightly to ease the pressure on your lower back.
  • Get up out of your seat regularly to move around the cabin and stretch. This will release any tension that has built up in your muscles and get the blood circulating again.
  • Try to relax, because when you’re stressed and anxious you can hold this tension within your muscles. Deep breathing exercises are good for this.
  • Drink plenty of water as the pressure in the cabin dehydrates you much more than usual so you need to keep topping up the tank. This will help to keep your joints and spinal discs lubricated.
  • Distract yourself with books, music and movies. Becoming absorbed in these things takes your attention away from the pain, which can block pain signals from reaching your brain.

After your flight

  • If you’ve been following these tips until now, then hopefully your back won’t feel too bad as you get off the plane. However, the flight likely will still have taken a toll on your body… so it makes sense to do a few things that will help you to recover faster and feel like yourself once more. These include:
  • Having a good post-flight stretch once you reach your hotel. This will help to loosen you up, release tension from your muscles, and get your circulation going again.
  • Going for a walk. Exploring your new surroundings and getting some fresh air into your lungs will do you the world of good after a long flight.
  • Taking a warm bath. If your hotel room has a bath, take advantage of it, as a nice soak will help to relax your aching muscles after a long and stressful journey. Even better if you have some Epsom bath salts on hand, too.
  • Trying to get a good night’s sleep as this is where your body and tired muscles can heal and regenerate themselves.
  • Hopefully, following the tips I’ve discussed here will go a long way in making flying out on your next vacation much easier and more comfortable.

Happy travels!

About Daniel Singleton

Daniel Singleton is the founder of Back On Site, a website designed to help people fight back against persistent back pain using his own personal experiences with the condition and the latest medical and scientific advice.